A serious cyber attack on Britain is “a matter of when, not if”, a top spy chief warned on Sunday.

Ciaran Martin, the head of GCHQ’s cyber defence unit, told The Telegraph newspaper that it is not possible for Britain’s security services to offer “absolute protection” against Russian hackers.

Instead, their focus is on combatting attacks that would “most impact on our way of life” rather than trying to stop every single breach.

It is believed that senior officials from internet, transportation and utility firms, as well as from the National Health Service, have attended intelligence briefings at the National Cyber Security Centre on the various ways in which Moscow might be targeting the UK’s infrastructure in the wake of the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in southern England last month.

It is understood that the NCSC has written to the government laying out urgent steps for civil servants to take, in order to protect Whitehall from cyber attacks.

According to The Telegraph, the advice included basic preventative measures as well as more specific, technical precautions to be undertaken by departments.

The warnings from Mr Martin are just the latest by the US and the UK about Russian cyber activity, as tensions continue to ratchet up following the air strikes on Syria.

Last week, British and US intelligence services issued a joint statement warning that the Kremlin is involved in “malicious cyber activity” by using malware to try to steal intellectual property, carry out espionage and prepare for future offensive operations.

The main targets include "government and private-sector organisations", as well as providers of critical infrastructure and internet service providers, they said.

Russia dismissed the warnings as “groundless”. “We don’t know what these new accusations are based on,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

 

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